Do you remember MV Ganga Vilas by Antara River Cruises, which made quite a buzz last year with its unprecedented 51-day cruise and secured a bewitching spot for India on the international river cruise map? Did you know that this luxurious flagship cruise visited fifty tourist spots along its course from India to Bangladesh? Are you enticed enough to know more about luxury river cruising in India? Be with me to know what is it like to glide past beautiful waterways and know a destination better. There is no shying from the fact that a 51-day cruise is not everyone’s cup of tea, but at the same time there are many travel enthusiasts who would like to sign up for the shorter tours of 15 days, 10 days, 7 days or 2-3 days of river cruising in India.
As far as I am concerned, I am fascinated by the majestic river vessels and the latest state-of-the-art systems. Thus, when I had an opportunity to be onboard the Ganges Voyager by Antara River Cruises, I couldn’t be more excited. My 6-day river cruise journey- a special vegan adventure, was based on the theme of Princely Murshidabad and it turned out to be phenomenal. It was during this journey that many of my preconceived notions about river cruising were brushed away. While I luxuriated in the amazing onboard experiences and ultimate hospitality, I also learned to slow down, take a pause, and appreciate the life that chugged right along the rivers. Furthermore, the shore excursions to the historic temples, battlefields, mango orchards and colonial palaces lend a new perspective to travelling. Together, it resulted in developing a great respect for nature, culture, and the local folks I met along the way.
In case, you have been contemplating that river cruises are not for you, think again about the majestic suites floating on the river, the magical breeze caressing your hair every now and then, the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets blessing you every day, and the amazing food flowing around you. Go pack your bags!
Why should you go river cruising in India?
India is a vibrant country, replete with waterbodies. River tourism seems very promising and several efforts are being made by the relevant government bodies to tap in the real potential.
To me, river cruising seemed more fun than sea cruising because there was a lot of drama and liveliness all along the journey, unlike the ocean. Every now and then, we passed through villages or small towns and there was so much to observe, photograph and cherish. Some locals never failed to smile at us. Some children loved waving to us. Some ghats were more busy and vibrant than the others. The slow-paced journey promised many stunning cityscapes and nature every few kilometres. I must say that smaller towns may be less developed but had lots to offer in terms of history, local art and culture. River cruising with tailor-made itineraries can be one of the most enriching, and unhurried ways of treating oneself with a meaningful vacation.
Another major advantage of river cruising is having the convenience of unpacking only once. Supposedly, you are visiting multiple cities in India, especially heritage towns or culture-rich villages, arranging the local transport and moving around can be a lot of hassle. Some may be harder to access or are less enjoyable via road. River cruising can replace all the stress of travelling for hours on buses between cities worrying about missing a train or arranging a guided tour for every excursion. On a well-designed river excursion, you just have to sit back, relax, and relish the passing moments.
With lesser people onboard, river cruising is an intimate group experience. When you eat together, share a few drinks and go on guided trips together, it becomes easier to foster new friendships.
Also, river cruising has something for everyone, be it history buffs, nature lovers, slow travellers, culinary experts, wine connoisseurs, or luxury travellers. There is enough time to meditate, to be lost in the sounds of nature, practice yoga, read books, make new friends and enjoy an immersive local journey.
Most of these luxury river cruises offer full-board or all-inclusive packages and arrange for meals, drinks, entertainment, and shore excursions. What more can you ask for to go on a stress-free trip?
An unforgettable journey onboard Ganges Voyager
Antara Cruises offers impeccable hospitality, well-planned itineraries designed to the last detail, and adheres to responsible luxury and sustainable practices. I know this because I have sailed on one of their ships- the Ganges Voyager. It is a 28-cabin, all-suite fleet, comprising of Maharaja Suite, Viceroy Suite, Heritage Suites, Colonial Suites, and Signature Suites along with a plush dining room, lounge bar, sun deck, spa, and Fitness Center. I started my journey from Delhi, took a flight to Kolkata in West Bengal and from there, I was transferred to a jetty in Howrah. This gorgeous vessel along with its troupe was waiting to extend a warm welcome to all of its occupants. And, soon the fun ride turned into a unique voyage of discovery. In 6 days of my itinerary, the ship acquainted us with six offbeat places showing us picturesque villages, ancient temples, colonial settlements, historic towns, and ancient monuments.
This cruise journey was unique for two reasons. First, it had a ‘Princely Murshidabad’ theme covering some of the most significant cities in Indian History, like Kalna, Chandernagore and Murshidabad. The latter used to be a prosperous city and the capital of Bengal during Murshid Quli Khan’s rule. Second, it had a special food concept as well. It was a vegan cruise. Yes, you read it right. I was part of the world’s first river vegan cruise where we remained compassionate to animals and only ate plant based food for all the meals. In all these days, there was an abundance of experimentation, newness, and variety in the dining room but there is no denying the fact that everything was gourmet and exceptional. This also proved that vegetarianism can be super fun too. And I also loved the fact how vegan travellers from around the world were happily indulging in Indian plant based delicacies.
Every day, I woke up like an enthusiastic kid and rushed to the deck (on the third floor) to kick-start my day with a wonderful yoga session under the guidance of an accomplished instructor onboard. After that, I treated myself to a hearty breakfast. Usually, a new day meant newer excursions and while I waited for the ship to dock in the heart of the towns and villages, I also enjoyed sitting idle and enjoying the idyllic views on the riverbanks. My most meditative location was my bed, right in front of the French balcony with floor-to-ceiling glass doors of my tastefully done room.
Not one but there were many instances when I also meandered around the Captain’s room to see the ship march forward and enjoyed the unobstructed view of the river, gorgeous countryside, river banks, etc. The fun-themed sessions in the day like saree draping, tasting of spices of India, or discussions on yoga were a great way to know each other and build a close-knit community with like-minded people from around the globe.
The shore sightseeing began with Kalna, also known as the ‘City of Temples’ for its 108 Shiva temples and the terracotta motifs in Ambika. The next day, we went walking through the village of Matiari known for manufacturing beautiful handcrafted brass items. On the same day, we also visited the charming village of Khushbagh, which is popular for the peaceful Moghul-style garden built by Nawab Ali-Wardi-Khan. On the day following day, it rained but we did not miss to visit the Char Bangla temple and the Gangeswar temple, both situated in Baranagar. They are some of the most unique temples made in Bengali style. Chugging down the river, we reached Murshidabad, a hidden architectural gem with dramatic whitewashed colonial-era structures. Katra mosque, built by the first Nawab is unmissable in Murshidabad. The next port of visit was the village of Mayapur, which is also the headquarters of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Finally, I disembarked at Chandernagore but not before discovering the French colony which had lots to offer to the historical buff in me. Truly, the journey from the river to the shores was eventful and enjoyable, every day. Six days passed in a jiffy but the memories that I brought with me are priceless.
Find out more about Antara Cruises and their upcoming voyages here – https://www.antaracruises.com/voyages/
Find the right river cruise for yourself
There are several river cruising itineraies available. They are aptly suited for travellers who desire to explore the country by indulging in culturally significant stories and learning about our people, art, culture, and wildlife, while everything else is taken care of. And with many unique itineraries available, there’s sure to be a river cruise that’s perfect for you.
And, it was only after this trip that I could conclude that river cruising is a great way to discover the less talked about towns and riverside heritage villages of India because they are harder to access or less enjoyable via road. Also, these port visits, field walks, and excursions to the smaller towns and villages left me curious for a deeper understanding of the cultural and ancestral heritage of India.
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